Rev. Richard Clewell (on his 48th Anniversary of Ordination)
May 8. 2011
SCRIPTURE:  Luke 24: 13-35
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Have any of you at sometime in your life journey had your genuine hopes shattered in terms a career opportunity, a down-sizing or separation from your work place, the break-up of a cherished relationship or the tragic untimely death of a family member or loved one?  Often such events shake us to the core and we don’t know what to do – we may be angry and feel victimized, we may experience embarrassment and shame, we might feel like running away and hiding.  I believe Jesus’ followers felt such things following the crucifixion and their experiences may instruct us.

This morning we continue our reflections on the post-resurrection accounts in the Gospel of Luke.  The gospel reading is listed in your bulletin where you can follow this narrative in the text.  I would like to share my perspective, my take, on this Easter Day account and what it can mean for us as followers of Christ.  The early community of faith, down to disciples in our own time, have had to deal with the same questions these two followers of Jesus tackled on that road to Emmaus.  We know little about the identity of these two men who appear to have been in the extended band of Jesus’ adherents.  One is named Cleopas, his only mention in Gospel lore.  We don’t know why they were going there – maybe returning home after the Passover, perhaps going there on business, or more probably heading there to get away from the terrible events they had witnessed in Jerusalem and the disappointment experienced in the horrible demise of the leader in whom they had placed their hopes.

They are discussing and debating with each other about all that had occurred.  They are trying to discern the meaning of their dashed hopes of national redemption.  Is there any persuasive reason to believe the women’s report that Jesus was really raised from the dead?  Is God actually present in the turmoil and confusion of their lives?  These were their questions and certainly resonate with our experience as we struggle in our faith journeys.

As they are on their journey they encounter this stranger who is unrecognizable to them.  He joins them on the road and expresses interest in their fervent conversation.  He asks them about their heated discussion which he can’t help but overhear.  Their immediate reaction is one of sadness and incredulity – “Where have you been, man?”  You couldn’t have ignored the things that have happened this past week.  The stranger responds, “What things?” and they use the opportunity  to vent their feelings about the prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, in whom they had placed their hope for redeeming the nation of Israel and how their institutional religious leadership had condemned him to death and had the Roman authorities crucify him.  Then today in the midst of their sorrow and fear for their own fate, some women of their group astounded them by relating an unbelievable angelic vision that he was alive.  On top of that, some of his disciples had gone to the tomb and found it empty as the women had said.  But they didn’t see any living Jesus.

The stranger then strongly engages them at the point of their failure to comprehend the teaching of their leader.  He focuses on their misconception about the Messiah as presented in their scriptures.  Beginning with Moses and all the prophets he interprets the things about the suffering servant dimension necessary for the implementation of God’s kingdom way.  During this extended teaching lesson, they arrive at Emmaus and the stranger walks on ahead of them.  But in the spirit of middle-eastern hospitality, they stop him and urge that he spend the approaching night with them, an offer which he accepts. 

When they sit down together for the evening meal, their visitor takes bread, blesses and breaks it, and gives it to them.  In this action they have an “aha” moment – their eyes are opened and they recognize him.  It all comes together in the presence of the risen One in word and sacred fellowship at the table…  And at that merging moment, he vanishes from their sight.  At that instance of reflection they are enlightened in a new way as they respond to his teaching and his actions in sharing with them as in the feeding of the five thousand and the Last Supper in the upper room in Jerusalem.  The Lord is alive!  With rekindled hope and enthusiasm to share their experience, even though dusk is turning into nightfall, they beat their feet back to Jerusalem and to the place where the eleven disciples and their companions are gathered in order to share their good news.  They hear that Simon Peter has also seen the risen Lord which further affirms and endorses their experience.  End of story – no, not by a long shot!

What does this mean for us as we travel our various roads today?  I believe for the early church of Luke’s day and for the community of faith throughout history to the present time, when the memory of the actions and teaching of Jesus’ ministry is enlightened by the Scriptures and reenacted in the hospitality at table fellowship by believers, the truth of the present living Christ is rekindled in us as it was for those two followers.  The Lord comes alive for them in the interpretation of the Word and the sacred experience in the breaking of bread.  That can surely happen for us on occasions in discussions around the reading in the Year of the Bible or in our sharing which we call communion at the Lord’s Table.

I think we also recognize that God’s presence is always elusive, fleeting, dancing on the edge of our awareness and perception.  Our risen Lord appears in the most unlikely and unexpected of places – not to prove divine power, but to demonstrate on-going care and to develop genuine hope.  We experience those moments of epiphany and then the ordinary closes in again.  But this story implies that one’s recognition of the presence of God is not a private gift.  It is never for us alone.  It’s a shared experience to be witnessed to others with joy – “Christ is risen!” (response) “Christ is risen indeed!”  He’s alive in our hearts that “burn within us.”  These words may seem an idle tale to others, but to those who have witnessed God’s transcendent presence in their lives at a grave, on a lonely road, or in hospitality to a fellow traveler or stranger, they are a transforming reality.

Easter is not over at sundown Easter Sunday.  It stretches into the rest of our lives.  The two disciples might never meet the stranger again, but it would not matter.  Life would never be the same.  The rest of the story will be an extension of the Easter reality.  The Lord is risen and comes back again and again to meet us on our roads to Emmaus.  Through the study of the Scriptures, we do find our hearts “strangely warmed” at times, and we recognize Christ’s presence in the breaking of the bread.  How can we not go and tell others “we have seen the Lord!”  May it be so in all our faith journeys.    Amen